Jeff Duncan: Saints gave themselves flexibility, created intrigue with blockbuster trade |  Jeff Duncan

Jeff Duncan: Saints gave themselves flexibility, created intrigue with blockbuster trade | Jeff Duncan

It’s been five days since the Saints acquired two first-round NFL draft picks in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

In that span, speculation about the team’s intentions has run rampant. National talk shows have debated the pros and cons of the move, and locally, it’s been difficult to go anywhere without being asked for an opinion or intel on the situation.

Everyone is trying to read the tea leaves and identify a motive.

Does this mean the Saints are rebuilding? Or reloading?

Are they targeting a couple of prospects in the middle of Round 1?

Or have they fallen in love with a quarterback and positioned themselves for a second trade to go get him?

As you would expect, the Saints are playing their cards close to the vest. General manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Dennis Allen have disappeared into their annual pre-draft bunkers and ensconced themselves in shroud of silence.

The blackout has only amplified the guess work.

The New Orleans Saints have traded their No. 18 overall pick, third-round pick at No. 101, seventh-round pick at No. 237, a 2023 first-rounder…

Former Saints general manager Randy Mueller worked with Loomis for decades and knows him as well as anyone, and even he seems in the dark about the Saints’ plan. He told a Philadelphia podcast this week that he thinks “there’s another shoe that has to drop. I think making this move was probably the first of a couple (moves). ”

At the same time, though, Mueller says it wouldn’t surprise him if the Saints stand put and use both picks on a pair of highly graded prospects.

“It tells me that (the Saints) have their (draft) board set for this year,” Mueller said on the Birds 365 podcast. “They know where (first round-graded) players are going to run out so to speak and maybe it’s 20 people that they feel are quality, really good values. They have two picks in that top 20 now, and we know the Saints need volume this year. ”

Knowing how the Saints operate, this makes the most sense.

Most NFL draft analysts have 22-23 players ranked with first-round grades in this draft. Four of those top 22 players are wide receivers and four others are offensive tackles, the positions of the greatest need for the Saints. It’s possible, if not likely, that both a first round-graded tackle and receiver will be available for the Saints at Nos. 16 and 19.

The trade ensures the Saints will get at least two of them if they elect to sit still and allow the first round to fall to them. For a team with a veteran roster and long-term salary cap concerns, finding two potential starters on rookie contracts makes sense strategically from a roster-building standpoint.

It’s why Mueller surmised the Saints were “doing what they thought was the best way to build their team” with the Eagles trade.

More than anything this trade gives the Saints flexibility. They’ve provided themselves options, something they didn’t have last year when they were stuck at the bottom of the first round without the ammo needed to ascend for a Top 10 talent.

A year ago, the Saints tried to trade up for one of the top-rated cornerbacks in the draft: Jaycee Horn or Pat Surtain Jr. They also were interested in quarterback Mac Jones. But they couldn’t find a trade partner willing to move all the way down to No. 28 where the Saints were slotted.

That shouldn’t be a problem this year. With two picks in the Top 20, the Saints could easily entice a team in the Top 10 or even Top 5 to trade down.

Could they use the pick on a quarterback?

It’s been 51 years since the Saints used their one and only first-round pick on a quarterback (Archie Manning), but I would not dismiss the notion entirely this year.

The Saints were telling us something with the contract they gave Jameis Winston last month.

The deal was widely reported as a two-year, $ 28 million contract. But really, it’s a one-year, $ 15.2 million deal. By cutting Winston before next March 19, the Saints could walk away from the deal and save $ 4.4 million on the salary cap next season.

New Orleans native, former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu visits with Saints.  Is he coming home?

The former LSU star defensive back is one of the NFL’s top available free agents.

The Saints gave themselves flexibility in case it doesn’t work out. And they also gave Winston plenty of incentive to make the most of the 2022 season. If he succeeds, the Saints can extend his deal and Winston can earn long-term security.

If Winston doesn’t work out or, in this case, if a quarterback they really like in the upcoming draft becomes available in Round 1, they can now move on from Winston after this season. Again, the Saints have wisely given themselves options.

This doesn’t mean the Saints don’t like Winston. It means they want to keep their long-term options open in case a franchise quarterback becomes available. Clearly, this was the case with Deshaun Watson. And maybe it will be with Kenny Pickett or some other draft prospect.

Either way, the Saints have ensured this will be the most intriguing draft we’ve experienced in years. The next three weeks should be fun.

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